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What is seven times Zero? A highly-charged electric motorbike gathering

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A few weeks ago, we wrote about our proposed EV experiment and trip. Dubbed the Kramer Experiment our aim was to push the limits of our electric motorcycles in terms of range and speed, using the Hunter Valley EV festival as an excuse.

Communication and logistics

The first challenge, and perhaps biggest difference in doing long rides on electric motorcycles is that you need to invest in planning. We spent quite a lot of time in advance co-ordinating our team and mapping various routes, then finding and communicating with a range of businesses and people – about their power points and circuit capacities. Not your regular ride planning type thing.

You simply can’t rely on getting access to high power outlets as easily as petrol stations (yet). However, you can rely on people’s interest and generosity (in the majority of cases) to help out trailblazers. In our case, we got a load of help from Oliver’s Real Food who offered access to their three phase outlets, and committed to access in advance. We also had charging availability confirmed at the EV festival and our accommodation.

Lessons and stories

On a magnificent crisp day, we headed off early and hit the freeway north by 8am. As planned, we sat on the speed limit to test the bikes in real world conditions. We had each used around 10-15% to get to the freeway from our homes and had a variety of luggage, bike types and personal girth bias.

After an uneventful ride up the freeway we landed at Oliver’s after around 90km. Most of us had around 30-35% left in our battery, again proving the accuracy of Zero’s published range estimates. While ICE riders pull up at pumps and start filling, we pulled up at a three phase outlet, unrolled our cables and adaptors and plugged in a menagerie of high power devices.

We predicted around an hour of charging before we could begin the next leg so we grabbed a snack and settled in.

The downside of owning an electric motorcycle is that you have to explain the story of ownership to, well, everybody. Most of us love talking about it, but I found that my personal limit is a tour bus full of overseas tourists who insisted on countless photos and selfies.

We also each had to deal with a few minor technical glitches “the EV hobbyist’s Folly”. In my case, my three phase to single phase adaptor box was wired wrong (doh!), but quickly rectified with the help of an intelligent friend. One of my cohorts also suffered a “contactor lockout”, which prevented his BMS from engaging for half an hour or so, but with a greedy 5kW of chargers it didn’t affect him unduly because he could charge so fast.

Personally, I also took a lesson for the future in the fact that having cables, chargers and high powered devices scattered around is neither a good look, nor is it the most risk minimising strategy. Next time, we all vowed to lift our game and get things better integrated and safer.

Nonetheless, we made good charging progress and were only held up by the slow charging Nissan Leaf that was with us, but after an hour and a half we saddled up and hit the road again.

There’s an APP for that!

A neat little aside is that although like most EV’s our bikes have dynamic range indicators (eg 50km till empty), this doesn’t really help you in advance for planning. So with the help of an old friend and excel wizard, we developed a simple calculator that uses three variables to calculate when we could safely leave and know that we would arrive safely at the planned destination.

In essence it allows you to ask “At what speed can I travel with X % of capacity for Y kilometres and how much capacity will I have left?” This allows you to avoid filling to 100% and take calculated risks on speed.

This little app proved very accurate and extremely useful for a trip like this; I wish Zero would build it in to their otherwise excellent monitoring app.

The event

The Hunter Valley EV festival is held at the Newcastle Go Kart track and has been happening since around 2012. After attending for the first time, I have to admit I had misjudged this event and wish I had gone to the others – it’s a cracker!

In short, it’s a frenzy of ev geekery and has something for everyone. There were race bikes, race cars, street bikes, street cars, electric bicycles in every shape and size, kids racing solar models and lots of peripheral stuff too.

We were only there for Saturday afternoon and to be honest, I could of easily used up a whole day to really take the time to absorb it all and talk to so many old friends and fellow enthusiasts.

To our mutual delight a gaggle of Zero owners turned up – seven of us at one stage – making it the biggest real world collection of owners ever in Australia. Riders had come in from all over the place and we gorged ourselves on the accessories, features and reality of living with our bikes while we recharged.

Cudo’s to one of the gaggle who had his own Kramer moment the night before, running out of juice just a few kms from his destination after not recharging for quite long enough at his last stop.

Pro tip #1 – use the app for planning and carry a tow strap!

The interesting lesson for all of us here was that his buddy towed him on his ICE bike. Our friend engaged full regen and low and behold worked out that he could get towed and recharge at roughly 1% per km – cool! Strange old world to runout, get towed and arrive with more energy than when you started!

The other interesting lesson for this couple was in off road reliability. With one on a Zero and the other on a standard dirt bike, the boys hit some of the fire trails to test their machines and skills. Not long into their off roading, the ICE bike owner clipped a rock and snapped off his gear level, making his life extremely difficult. A Zero has no gear level to snap off.

The organisers had promised us the chance to get on the track which we were all pretty keen to try out. We battled to pin the right people down on the day, expecting to be drowned in paperwork, conditions and liability forms but low and behold at around 3pm a casual announcement over the PA invited all two wheel machines to get on the track for demonstration laps. I could have won a Le Mans start with my sprint to my bike and didn’t even bother removing my saddlebags; sixty seconds later I was in full flight around the very tight track and grinning like an idiot.

The track quickly filled up with Zero’s with electric race bikes whizzing past every few laps at hyper speed. There were also some extremely fast electric stealth style bikes who were extremely quick on the tight circuit. We all rode at our personal limits for a hugely fun 30 minutes or so which was a highlight for me.

Return leg

After a great day we enjoyed a good feed at a local pub and were yet again stunned by the interest and hospitality of the people. “Want me to open up the switchboard for you to recharge boys?” the publican declared. We didn’t need it but it was a great example of the interest and enthusiasm to help.

We headed to a local caravan park (Joy! So many 15A outlets!!!) where we enjoyed a few more beers, talked electric bikes, the future and enjoyed the now customary, endless irony of teasing the sole ICE bike rider who was stinking the place up. “Shut-up gas boy” became the catch phrase as we ribbed him endlessly about his high maintenance, costly to run, antiquated, noisy, fume belching Ducati. “Get with the future man – and stop annoying the neighbours”.

Pro tip #2 – the person who books the cabin always gets dib’s on the double bed. J

We set off on another awesome day to ride home. We calculated that since we had back tracked a little and all had full batteries, we would only need a brief top up at Oliver’s southbound and arrived after a great 40 min ride.

3 phase isn’t always three phase

Arriving at Oliver’s Southbound we introduced ourselves and headed to the three phase outlet. Nothing. Turns out the three phase circuit wasn’t working, a valuable lesson for all of us – just because there is an outlet, doesn’t mean it works.

One of our other Zero owners also commented that he is finding a lot of 3 phase outlets wired up in different ways too – some in star and some in delta, which really takes the fun out of just plugging in to recharge.

Luckily, we could all get by with a small top up, so we slow charged for 30-60minutes and then had enough for the final leg home.  During this process we also popped a breaker, taking out the fridge circuits in the restaurant – not a great look. The staff were concerned but really, really patient and understanding and we promised to be more careful about load size.

The great, invisible variable factor

I was first to charge and first to leave for the home run and headed off with the benefit of knowing a)what I had used on the way up, b)my app to calculate range and speed and c)a great weekend behind me.

As I ventured on however, I noticed I was using energy a bit faster than I expected.  Now having ridden electric for almost 4 years straight I’m highly proficient at supressing range anxiety, but by half way along the freeway portion of my ride I could sense I needed to adjust. I dropped 10km/h off my speed and added a little more caution to ensure I arrived home.

Sure enough I arrived home with around 12% left to spare but compared to the ride up I used around 5-10% more energy for that same distance. Why? I have no idea, it’s just the way things go sometimes. Perhaps cumulatively, there is more uphill than down heading south. Perhaps the wind direction was less favourable. Perhaps the air temp was a little cooler or most likely it was just a combination of all these factors.

Pro tip #3 – plan well, always leave some reserve and adjust your style if things aren’t working out before it’s too late

Verdict?

For many rider, all this faffing around might spoil the joy of the ride and putting more miles in. I get that and occasionally hanker for longer days in the saddle without the hassle we had to go through. But I remind myself that only a generation ago servo’s weren’t 24/7, they weren’t everywhere and running out of juice was much more common. Hell, in my youth you had to have cash on you, and could only get it from a bank and that stopped me from doing things once or twice.

The Kramer Experiment taught us some lessons – good and bad but one thing is absolutely clear – we enjoyed every single second of flying through the air on sweet winding roads as anyone else and we made our 100% electric trip despite a few minor obstacles. Imagine how easy it will be in five year’s time.

  

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  • Matthew Cooper

    Always a good read Nige 🙂
    Sounds like it was a blast